The following letter of concern for the proposed Chateau Laurier addition was sent by The Honourable Serge Joyal and architect Phyllis Lambert, Founding Director Emeritus of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, to the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism.
The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism
485, Confederation Building
House of Commons
Ottawa (Ontario) K1A 0A6
July 9, 2019
We are addressing you in your dual capacity: first, as the Minister of Canadian Heritage who is responsible, according to your mandate letter, to promote “Canada’s stories, shaped by our immense and vibrant diversity, [which] should be celebrated and shared between Canadians and with the world”; and also as the Minister responsible for the National Capital Commission to Parliament, a Commission sensitive to national symbols, historic commemorations and in particular to events of national significance held on Parliament Hill.
We are deeply concerned that the integrity of the original architecture of the Château Laurier is being destroyed, and that you and the Commission have surrendered and washed your hands of the issue, as if this is happening in some remote backyard.
Perhaps a brief historical reminder will serve to enlighten the present situation and allow us to reflect on our collective inability to prevent the disappearance of what identifies us, and could positively inspire us to undertake initiatives that draws on the lessons learned from our not so distant past.
In 1966, Minister George McIlraith’s Department of Public Works approved the demolition of Union Station (where the Senate sits today) to, you guessed it, make room for public parking spaces! The reasoning offered at the time seemed very convincing in the eyes of the government: there would be huge crowd of visitors to Ottawa to celebrate the Centenary of 1867, and it seemed imperative to make room for tourists’ cars in the city center to facilitate their access to the National Capital.
It was a group of citizens assembled under the banner of Heritage Ottawa’s predecessor that organized protests, pressure campaigns, open letters in newspapers, and petitions to Parliamentarians to finally convince Minister McIlraith to back down.
What ultimately influenced the government’s decision was that Union Station and Chateau Laurier formed an inseparable ensemble that had originally, and personally, been promoted by Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Both buildings were designed by the same Montreal architectural firm, Ross & MacFarlane, to give Ottawa the look of a true capital city that would, indeed, be rooted in the great history of Humanity. The Station was meant to be of classical / beaux-arts architectural style, while the Chateau was inspired by medieval / renaissance style.
We remind you of these facts because the decision you face affords you a choice that will mark your legacy at the head of this Ministry: will you be a visionary, as was Laurier in his time, or remain merely indifferent, as was McIlraith’s Department in 1966, who happened to also be responsible for the National Capital Commission which, at the time, had complacently followed the Department’s administrative reasoning, as has the current Commission and its Chairman in the face of this botched project?
How do you intend to mark history? This is what you are facing: you can either hide behind the rhetoric of “it's not us, it’s them – it's not the public, it's the private sector”; or, you can take up the mantle of leadership by asserting, with all of the moral and political authority that your title confers on you, to demonstrate to all Canadians that the heart of Parliament Hill is not akin to a shopping center that can be developed at will, but rather that it carries a symbolic value to which all Canadians from coast to coast hold dear.
You represent us all at this moment of our national life. Allow us to hope that you will not project an image of helplessness, but rather that of visionary leadership, as have done the most distinguished of your predecessors: request a meeting with the members of the Lalji family; enlighten them as to how they, too, share a collective responsibility as owners of the Chateau Laurier, a historic building, and that we are not seeking to prevent them from making more money by enlarging the hotel, but rather, to do so in the respect of our past, of who we are, and of what identifies us. Distinguished experts are on hand to offer helpful advice for an acceptable expansion project. This is the kind of leadership that we would expect from you.
The Honourable Serge Joyal, C.P.
O.C., O.Q., M.R.S.C., Ad. E.
Fiduciary Member of the CCA
Phyllis Lambert, CC, COQ, CAL, FIRAC Founding Director Emeritus of the
Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA)
cc. : The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister responsible for Parks Canada